HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Have You Seen Tom Thumb?
Author: Mabel Leigh Hunt
Illustrator: Fritz Eichenberg
Publisher: Harpercollins Children’s Books, 1942
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 12-16 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hunt, Mabel Leigh. Have You Seen Tom Thumb? (published in 1942 by Frederick A. Stokes Company, Philadelphia, PA). Is Tom Thumb merely a legend, or was he a real person? Tom Thumb is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published by Thomas Langley at London in 1621 about a boy who was no bigger than his father’s thumb and became a favorite of King Arthur. It was the first fairy tale printed in English. These stories may have been based on a real Tom Thumb born around 1519, as there is a grave purporting to be his that is set into the floor adjacent to the font of the main chapel in Holy Trinity Church at Tattershall, Lincolnshire. In the middle 18th century, books began to be published specifically for children (some with their authorship attributed to “Tommy Thumb”), and, by the middle 19th century, Tom was a fixture of the nursery library. However, Charles Sherwood Stratton, a charming and humorous dwarf who achieved great fame as a performer under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum, was better known by his stage name “General Tom Thumb,” given to him by Barnum to capitalize on the English legends.
Stratton was born on January 4, 1838, the son of a Bridgeport, Connecticut, carpenter named Sherwood Edward Stratton and his wife Cynthia. By late 1842, Barnum, a distant relative, heard about Stratton and after contacting his parents, taught the boy how to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate famous people. Stratton made his first tour of America at the age of five, with routines that included impersonating characters such as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte as well as singing, dancing and comical banter with another performer who acted as a straight man. A year later, Barnum took young Stratton on a tour of Europe, making him an international celebrity. From the age of seven, Stratton performed in grand full-length fairytale melodramas under the management of Barnum. In 1862, Stratton stood 2 feet 11 inches tall. His marriage in 1863 to a little person, Lavinia Warren, became front-page news. Under Barnum’s management, Stratton became a wealthy man and made his final appearance in England in 1878. On July 15, 1883, he died unexpectedly of a stroke at age 45.
Have You Seen Tom Thumb? is a biography of Charley Stratton and was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1943. It focuses primarily on his youth but carries the account briefly through his marriage to his death. Author Mabel Leigh Hunt tells the tale of an unusual and fascinating person that most people have never even heard of, provides some insights into the world of popular entertainment, circa 1850, and gives a little bit of history. One reviewer objected to “the rare racial slurs,” but I did not see any of those. Most people complained about the frequent use of the word “midget” and other terms that they felt were condescending. However, another person noted that at the time, it was the correct term for a person with his particular variety of dwarfism. Thus, this aspect of the book is historically accurate. Another dislike about the book is that it “blends fact and fancy.” It is true that Hunt invents monologues and dialogues and creates the occasional imaginary scenario, but this is probably somewhat from necessity, because it is doubtful that many primary sources exist that could tell us these things. There are a few minor references to dipping snuff, dancing, and smoking cigars, but the story is otherwise engaging, and it is made clear that both the Strattons and the Barnums were believers in God and the Bible.